Quantum Realms: Abe Asfaw hosts Real Scientists

Real Scientists is going quantum this week with Abe Asfaw (@abe_asfaw), Quantum Education Lead/PhD candidate at IBM Quantum/Princeton University in the US. His work focuses on building software, educational materials, and interactive content that allows students and developers to leverage quantum computers over the cloud. Abe’s goal is to build diverse quantum communities all over the world, including his home country of Ethiopia, through open access to IBM’s real quantum systems. At IBM Quantum, he leads a global education and open science advocacy mission where he has contributed to industry-leading science communication efforts to help democratize the field of quantum computing such as the Coding with Qiskit YouTube series, the Qiskit Open Source Textbook, and the IBM Quantum Challenge.

When he’s not doing ALL of this, Abe is completing his PhD at Princeton University focusing on experimental quantum computation. His research has three focus areas: stabilizing magnetic fields for quantum computers, experiments using superconductors, and transport measurements [*extremely cool comic book-sounding stuff alert*] of electrons floating on shallow superfluid helium. He joins Real Scientists this week and we’re geeking out.

Welcome to Real Scientists! Can you tell us how you got into science?
Inspiration from high school mathematics and physics teachers

What are you working on right now?
My PhD studies explored methods for stabilizing magnetic field fluctuations in quantum computers based on electron spins, nanofabrication of devices for control of electrons floating on superfluid helium, and measurement of electron spins using resonators made from high-kinetic-inductance superconducting materials. At IBM Quantum, I am leading the quantum education efforts to ensure that students who are learning about quantum computing today can also learn how to program these systems over the cloud.

Quantum computing is highly interdisciplinary — physics, computer science and electrical engineering all contribute to its development.

What do you want the public to know about your work?
Quantum computing is a fairly young field of science and technology. There is room for anyone to participate and make impactful contributions, starting from software contributions to open-source quantum computing to theoretical contributions to improve how we compile quantum programs to engineering and materials science contributions to how we build the quantum computers.

Abe Asfaw

What do you do when you’re not in the lab?
I serve on the executive committee of the Ethiopian Physical Society in North America. We are committed to bringing more Ethiopians into Physics, and ensuring that we raise awareness about the various career paths within Physics by highlighting present researchers.

During my time off, I frequently play electronic music as a DJ, and mentor Ethiopian students who are applying to universities abroad and taking the GRE and TOEFL. I also enjoy swimming — my longest swim is ~2 hours long, and about 200 turns on a 25 yard swimming pool.

What does your perfect day off look like?
Two kinds of ideal days.

First kind: Morning: wake up early and go on a swim. Come back home and program a quantum computer while drinking coffee. Early afternoon — think of new ways to teach quantum computing and catch up with the latest changes in the software or read 1 or 2 papers that are on the never-ending pile. Early evening — one or two mentor-mentee meetings with new students in the field of quantum computing. Evening — cook dinner and watch a movie.

Second kind: Go to an electronic music festival with camping and spend all day and night there.

Abe Asfaw, welcome to Real Scientists!

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